Monday, November 28, 2011

Thoughts on the new Nicene Creed

I was interpreting once a long time ago for a group of Deaf people at a worship service and the closing hymn was “When the Storms of Life are Raging.”  The last verse said “when my life is but a burden and I’m nearing chilly Jordan” and I signed “when I become sick, burdened, near death.”  “Chilly Jordan” is a symbol for death.  When the Israelites crossed over the Jordan they arrived in the “Promised Land.”  The “Promised Land” for us, of course, is heaven.  After the service a Deaf congregant came up to me and said “why did you take away the Jordan?”  I explained that when one is interpreting in American Sign Language it is translating one language into another.  The truth of the text was rendered in my interpretation.  The consumer countered that he wanted the exact text of the hymn.  Some Deaf people prefer translation and others transliteration.  It is important for the interpreter to know their audience so they sign in a way that fits their language preferences.

Perhaps the exact Latin text of the Nicene Creed is what the Roman Catholic Church is aiming at as they unveiled their updated version of the creed that will be used beginning this week.   Where it used to say “I have sinned through my own fault” it now says “I have greatly sinned, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”   Those words are the true rendering of the original Latin, not the shortened one-liner that has been used in the past.   

According to National Public Radio there has been a strong reaction to the change, some positive and some negative.  I think this change, which includes an unmistakable emphasis on personal admission of sin and the gravity of sin, should give us pause to think as we enter the season of Advent.  What is a more proper preparation for the coming of Christ than an admission of sin?  Sin is grievous to God and it spills over into self-abuse and pain or neglect towards one’s brothers and sisters.  Sin separates us from God and from people and it always leads to more sin and more separation.  We are quick to excuse ourselves from our sins, minimalizing them, rationalizing them, or blaming other people.  In this new Nicene Creed three times it says “my fault” so there is no getting around personal responsibility for sin.  The ancient writer knew humanity’s propensity for passing the buck.

As you prepare for the coming of Christ this Christmas of 2011 and as you prepare for the coming of Christ at the end of the age, two realities that are as sure as the sun, what sins do you need to confess?  What do you need to change in your life that is grieving the Lord?  Make a list of those things before you write a Christmas gift list.  Make amends with those you have offended before you plan a holiday party.  Write a plan for living in a new and Christ-like way before you address your Christmas cards.  Repentance and reconciliation is the true heart of Christmas.  It is why Christ came.  Through his death on the cross Jesus brings us life everlasting when we cross the “chilly Jordan” and enter the “Promised Land.”  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

United Methodist Student Day Offering – November 27, 2011

Every year United Methodists receive a Student Day Offering to assist with higher education scholarships for our young people.  These funds are needed more than ever this year as many students are finding it hard to find money to attend college in these challenging times.  When you give to the Student Day offering you are supporting students who are finding new ways to serve God in the world.  You are touching the future with every dollar you give.
Morgan Prettyman is a 2011 graduate of the University of Delaware.   She was active in the Wesley Foundation as an undergrad and now is taking part in the Graduate Student group.  She is a gifted poet.  For the dedication to the Wesley Foundation she wrote the following poem:

I’ve heard this (Wesley Foundation) described in many ways;

A home away from home
A place to be when things go wrong
A place of love, laughter, and forgiveness
People who play hard, pray hard, work hard
A group of talent, of the future
A family
A family is the circle around these many words
It is the hands holding hands in the midst of prayer
It is the familiar faces, the strong smiles
It is the embrace when tears are falling
It is comfort and words of encouragement,
It is the eyes that see more in friends than the friends
Can see in themselves
It is the challenging conversations and the open ears
To hear all sides
It is a crowded home overflowing
From forgiveness and joy
It is a growing circle that loves to be stretched beyond
Its boundaries, loves to be too big for its walls
This circle sings and laughs and cries and struggles and triumphs
And, above all, lives in communion, in this wide open
Ring of linked hands and hopes and friendships
That always finds a way to lift up
I’ve heard this described in many ways: because family is a living word.

Please support promising young people like Morgan as you receive an offering this Sunday.  The future is bright for the United Methodist Church.  Thanks to Morgan for sharing her poetry and for the youth and campus chaplain at the University of Delaware: Rev. Mary Haggard.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What are you serving for Thanksgiving Dinner?

By this time you may be thinking about Thanksgiving Dinner as it just about a week away.  Will you have turkey… ham?  I know some people in Lebanon County have stuffed pig stomach.  On the eastern shore some families serve oysters and crabs.  What you eat is not the main point of Thanksgiving of course.  The giving of thanks to God is the center of this national observance.  As we give thanks we should always be "living" thanks by acts of compassion and sacrifice.  Why not give to the Agricultural Project in the Central Congo Conference of the United Methodist Church?

Last year a team of Congolese farmers were trained at an agriculture school in Zambia, run by missionary Paul Webster. Volunteers in Mission from the Pen-Del Conference assisted with this training. These new farmers are doing some amazing work now in the Congo but they need help to continue to train people and to establish more farms.  This is critically important in order to feed people as well as become a source of income.  The Congo is slowly recovering from years of civil war and food is scarce.  Our Congo Partnership that includes the Eastern PA and the Peninsula Delaware Conferences, have provided $15,000 for start up funds.  We need to raise at least $25,000 for the next phase of the project.  If everyone would donate to the Congo Partnership this Thanksgiving that project could feed so many people.  Just imagine the blessing of adding the Democratic Republic of the Congo to your Thanksgiving guest list this year!!  You can do so by donating.  Send funds to the following places:

Eastern PA Annual Conference
c/o Rev. David Ryan
Hopeland UM Church
295 N. Clay Road
Lititz, PA  17543

Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference
139 N. State Street
Dover, DE  19901

Be sure to write "Congo Partnership Agriculture Project" on the memo line when you donate.

The Agriculture Project Powerpoint (click on the blue link to download) can be shown at your churches and it further illustrates the incredible need and that wonderful progress.  Happy Thanksgiving Philadelphia Area!  We are blessed in order that we might be a blessing.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Veterans Day

November 11th is known as Veteran’s Day.  It is a day in which we remember all those men and women who have served in the armed forces in our country.  Some gave the ultimate sacrifice.  How will you observe Veteran’s Day this year?   I received an email from a friend that told me an interesting story about the people in the City of Pilsen, in the Czech Republic.  Every five years they have a “Liberation Celebration” to honor the liberation of Pilsen by General George Patton’s 3rd Army in World War II.
Every year since 1945 there is a memorial service in the woods near Pilsen at the location of a crash site where an American war plane was shot down by enemy fire.  For 65 straight years a woman named Zdenka Sladkova has cared for this memorial.  She was 14 years old at the time of the crash and she was so moved by this soldier’s tragic death (he was only 20 years old) that she made a vow to care for his memory.  She is now 79 years old. 
The people of Pilsen also have established a “General Patton Scholarship Fund” and they award money to a graduating senior each year who will either be entering the military or another form of community service.   By awarding this scholarship they are lifting up the value of giving one’s life for a cause that is “greater than self.” 
These incredible honors given by the people of the Czech Republic are touching indeed, given the fact that this is not even their country they are lavishing with such accolades.  They have parades and ceremonies and military citations during these celebrations.  The  people  of Pilsen know how to say “thank you” for the service rendered on behalf of their country.  May we do the same!  Say “thank you” to a soldier that you meet.  Help out the families of veterans that may be challenged with loved ones far from home.  Participate in services of honor and thanksgiving for those who gave their lives.  Let us all dedicate ourselves to live for a cause greater than ourselves….that of service to God and to others.   Jesus said:  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)